Fall Really is the Best Time to Plant

The “green” industry regularly promotes fall and winter as the best times to plant. This is true, but have you ever wondered why? It seems a bit illogical to plant a plant just as it enters — or will soon enter — dormancy. Here is the answer, short and simple.

In south Texas, we have two, sometimes three, seasons: bearable, unbearable and intolerable. OK, this may be not what the Chamber of Commerce presents, but native plants have adapted to the hot, dry summers by geminating their seeds in the fall or by extending their roots during the temperate winter. By developing a deep and extensive root system during the dormant season, native plants can survive extensive summer droughts fairly well.

But it’s the dormant season, how can roots grow during the dormant season, you ask. Our soil does not freeze like northern soil, so plant roots are able to grow, albeit at a slower rate, throughout the fall, winter and early spring months. Extensive root systems equal survival and growth. So planting during the fall and winter provides the absolute best opportunity for plants to grow and thrive for the rest of their lives.

Are there any tips for planting? Absolutely! Follow these simple rules for great planting:

  • Dig wide holes – whether roses or lantanas or red oaks, the wider the hole, the better.  The minimum hole size is twice the diameter of the container it came in.
  • The hole is only as deep as the root collar – the juncture of trunk and roots. Always check the top of the rootball. Some unscrupulous nursery people will throw dirt on top of the rootball when they upgrade the plant to a larger size, thus hiding the root collar resulting in a plant planted too deep to reach full potential.
  • Always use the original soil, plus a little compost and organic fertilizer, to backfill the hole. Water the rootball and backfill thoroughly.

Finally, cover the planting area with no more than 2 inches of woodchip or pinebark mulch. And, remember to water weekly with Mark’s famous 3-2-1 method.

Picture of Mark Peterson
Mark Peterson
Mark A. Peterson was a conservation project coordinator for San Antonio Water System before retiring. With over 30 years of experience as an urban forester and arborist, Mark is probably the only person you know who actually prunes trees for fun. When not expounding on the benefits of trees and limited lawns, you're likely to find him hiking San Antonio's wilderness parks or expounding on the virtues of geography and history to his friends.
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